Sunday, July 19, 2009

Reinvigorating the American Brand, Part 4 of 20

Hard Work

Past generations worked very hard for what we have today. These past generations weren’t perfect but they did build America and we have the same responsibility to leave something better for our kids, grandkids and future generations. This is one of my biggest fears in terms of the sustainability of America’s strength and influence as a Nation. There have been several documented examples that have shown when Nations become too wealthy people tend to outsource all of the hard work—even work that is core to the Nations sovereignty. There are theories that the Aztecs fell because of this and the Romans as well. In the early days of the Roman Empire friends and brothers fought side by side. They fought fiercely to protect their people. When they retired from the military they would earn a plot of land and could live out their lives peacefully. Later in Roman history, after acquiring a lot of land and wealth, the government used mercenaries to fight their wars. These people weren’t as loyal to the cause and the Romans started to lose ground. There were several factors that came into play with the Roman’s at this stage in history but the empire started to fall. Our Generations—Boomers, X’ers and Y’ers have been handed a lot. We can’t take this for granted. There are other superpowers emerging around the world with people who have had very little and their motivation is high. Early on in my career I started at a staffing firm and I placed people in lower wage positions mostly in the manufacturing and clerical fields. I worked in a Downtown office in Portland, Oregon which happens to have a relatively high homeless rate. The theory for the high homeless population is because of the amount of social programs offered in the city. Just outside my office I would often run into people who would ask for some spare change. These were people who appeared to be perfectly capable of working. Many of them spoke articulately and appeared physically and mentally healthy. I started off giving people my spare change but when I saw the same people day after day I decided to start giving them my business card. I told them that if they came up and talked to me I would look into placing them at one of companies I worked with. Not one of them ever came up to see me. I thought this was interesting. As I would drive through the city I would also notice the amount of Americans hanging out in the front of 7-11’s and other areas for extended parts of the day. I thought why are there so many people just hanging out during a time when we were in an economic boom. Then one of the most alarming things I heard was the High School drop out rate in Oregon. Right now about one fourth of all freshman four years ago won’t receive a diploma. This number startles me—we aren’t talking about college here. We are just talking High School. When I think about emerging countries where people are so hungry for more and the amounts of engineers and programmers graduating from some of these countries it starts to become a scary picture for Americans. Couple this with the amount students who are halfway through their University education and don’t know what they want to do yet—or don’t even know what they are good at. I bring groups of students in to tour the companies that I have worked for. I would say that a good third of the students don’t know what they want to do, they haven’t done any internships and they have, “I have all the time in the world to figure it out,” attitude. The good news is that there is still a portion of them that come in, know what they are good at, have internships in their field, and show immense passion for what they want to do. These students will hands down end up getting the jobs. It’s not enough anymore to tell our kids that they have all the time in the world to figure it out. If we tell them they can be anything they want to be when they grow up we also have to instill the hard work ethic that needs to go along with it. We are very fortunate that we still live in a place where we have limitless possibilities. This does not exempt us from hard work though. Our primary school system needs change. I believe this could be done for relatively low cost but it will take an astronomical shift in thinking. My suggestion is that we get rid of tenure and we instill a true performance culture. Administrators should be given far more control over the performance of the system and to make faster decisions to make changes when something doesn’t work. I know many people who work in the school systems and you would be amazed at the piles of bureaucratic red tape they have to go through to have something as simple as a performance discussion. This would never happen in the private sector. If something is not working or a person isn’t performing in a private organization it is going to act fast. This is not the case with our school system and our youth is suffering because of it. Parents, professors, career councilors need to ensure we are giving a current picture of the competitive landscape out there. The advice should no longer be—you have time to figure it out. We don’t have time to figure it out. Those seeking counseling should be given advice that will truly make them competitive in this new landscape. At the same time they should be guided to do what they love no matter how impractical it may be. If the impractical is complimented by a person’s true passion, hard work and focus then they will mostly likely land a career in their field or something related. Because they are passionate about it they will out compete others in the same field—no matter where they are globally. Hard work does not mean seeking out something you don’t like just because it’s practical. Over there years I have seen many people who have made this choice and they can easily be out competed by others that love what they do. My advice is the exact opposite. Figure out what your strengths are, what you’re passionate about and then work super hard to be the best in the world at it. And do it quickly. The last piece about hard work is that we all have jobs we don’t always love as we are working towards building our craft and building our career. Performance in every job you ever do will impact every job you have after it. Hard work opens doors, builds references and builds networks. Laziness and complaining because your aren’t in the ideal role yes does the exact opposite. It destroys references, shrinks networks and closes doors. Every job counts. Find what you love and work hard at it. If you don’t have it yet work hard at what you have and set your sites on where you want to go.

Coming Next-Part Five: Giving Back

1 comment:

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